Comparing the number of recent free agent shake-ups in the NHL to other leagues like the NBA and MLB, it’s clear there haven’t been the same level of game-altering signings.
Look no further than both of those league’s previous off-seasons. Bryce Harper ditched the Washington Nationals for the Philadelphia Phillies, while arguably the best player in basketball currently, Kawhi Leonard, just left a championship Toronto Raptors squad in favour of the Los Angeles Clippers.
Even though that type of high-level talent doesn’t move around often in the NHL, there have been a few exceptions in the 2010s.
Here are the three most impactful team-changing free agency acquisitions of the last decade:
Minnesota Wild sign both Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to matching 13-year, $98-million contracts - July 4, 2012
What a joyous Fourth of July it was in the State of Hockey!
After four-straight ho-hum seasons that didn’t include a playoff appearance, Minnesota shocked the hockey world by inking the two biggest names made available during the 2012 off-season.
Suter and Parise, both American-born talents, were expected to take the Wild from mediocrity to elite status in the Western Conference. And while the blueliner has enjoyed some of the best years of his career in Minny, it’s hard to say the same thing about the forward.
The former New Jersey Devil reached the 65-point plateau four-times across seven seasons prior to swapping squads. In seven campaigns with his hometown team, however, he has yet to reach that mark.
Suter, meanwhile, leads all NHL players in time-on-ice since leaving the Nashville Predators. He’s also been as reliable as any defender, finishing in the top-10 of the Norris Trophy voting on five occasions while playing in Minnesota.
The additions, unfortunately, haven’t moved the needle as much as expected. The club has since made the playoffs six times, but haven’t advanced past the second round.
Florida Panthers sign Sergei Bobrovsky to a 7-year, $70-million contract - July 1, 2019
Bobrovsky hasn’t even made a start for the Panthers, but given the rather sparse state of game-changing free agent signings this decade, he warrants inclusion on the list.
This deal makes the former Columbus Blue Jackets star the second-highest paid netminder in the NHL, behind only Carey Price.
Florida has struggled mightily between the pipes in recent years, and in Bobrovsky, it has acquired a goalie who boasts as impressive a resume as any.
He is the only active puckstopper in the league who’s won two Vezina Trophies. At age 30, he heads to Sunrise, FL., as a two-time all-star still firmly in the prime of his career.
Since the announcement of his signing along with a string of other acquisitions made by Florida, it boasts the fourth-best odds to win the Eastern Conference, according to VegasInsider. Surely an encouraging sign for a club that hasn’t made the playoffs in three seasons.
Not many players of Bobrovsky’s calibre have changed scenery during the free agency process, making his signing with Florida one of the most impressive and league-altering of the decade.
Toronto Maple Leafs sign John Tavares to a 7-year, $77-million contract - July 1, 2018
As excited as Wild fans were to party about the news of their club signing two American stars on July 4, you can only imagine what Canada Day was like in Toronto after finding out about this news.
After weeks of speculating which team he would sign with, and meetings hosted by Tavares’ camp with numerous NHL squads, the talented centre decided to return home, inking with the Maple Leafs.
The move, much to the displeasure of New York Islanders’ fans, immediately put Toronto’s one-two punch down the middle of Auston Matthews and Tavares amongst the best in the NHL.
The forward has only played one season with the Maple Leafs, but it was the best campaign he’s ever had. In 2018-19, he set career highs with 47 goals and 88 points.
The early returns have not yielded the desired playoff success, though. Despite Tavares’ presence, the club suffered the same fate as the season prior, falling to the Boston Bruins once again in the first round.
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